Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I pull on my down vest and head downstairs. I’m amazed I slept until 6:30 but with the uptake of the day’s usual din, there seems no point in pushing my luck, and with the sun coming out, part of the day I love most here is just before me, and fleeting.
Reluctantly I throw my camera over my shoulder (I just want a cup of tea), change the time zone to Kathmandu, grab my other camera and do the same, then step outside and into the circle. I’m staying in Boudhanath, the predominantly Tibetan end of town, where life revolves, literally, around the large whitewashed stupa, flanked with prayer flags and over which Buddha’s eyes, painted with simple lines and bright colour, watch. Around the stupa walks a constant flow of people, prayer beads in hand, spinning prayer wheels and chanting. They take breaks to say hello to friends, put a bill in the hands of a blind beggar, or light a candle, then re-join the circle. I join them. I’ve done this now for 5 years, my 36 hour travel to get here feels like its own pilgrimage.
I’ve come to make photographs and, believing you can’t photograph something you’ve not experienced, I join the circle and walk clockwise around the giant stupa, along with the faithful, the tourists, the crimson-clad monks, and the mangiest dogs you’ve ever seen. Not a Buddhist myself, I have nonetheless found my own deep meaning here, amidst the smoke and incense, pigeons and pilgrims, my walk around this stupa, a prayer that my eyes be open to what is around me. It’s a reminder to my own soul to live in the moment and be receptive, a prayer as often as not that’s been answered by the camera in my hand, the gift of which has been a life-long opening of my eyes.
I walk around the stupa and as I do the light changes as it rises, it goes from sidelight to backlight, sidelight to frontlight. I feel my feet quicken when the sun is at my back, speeding me back around to that point when the sun is rising in front of me over the jumbled rooftops, and setting the prayers flags and the smoke of incense ablaze, backlit and magical. As I do a monk strides by, his box of incense swinging wide. I drop to my knees, raise my camera to my face and begin muttering, which I do often when the camera is involved, and which I’m sure to passers-by, if they’re paying any attention to me at all, sounds like a prayer. I suppose it is, though I’m not sure if I’m praying to God that He open my eyes, or to the camera itself that it do that magical thing where the beauty of the photograph expresses even a sliver of this moment.
That’s the gift of photography, my eyes open to moments and allowing me to live moment by moment, in miraculous fractions of seconds, instead of day by day. God, I love it here.